Written by Matt Wixon
Allen's 'football town' reputation does not deter basketball team in unprecedented run to state tournament
ALLEN — Jeff McCullough heard the warnings when he took over the Allen boys basketball program before the 2012-13 season.
“A lot of people told me, ‘Good luck, it’s a football town. You’ll never be able to win,’ ” he said. “I differed with them, obviously.”
And now the coach, along with a team that has scorched five straight playoff opponents, has proved the naysayers wrong. Allen (27-8) plays Converse Judson (36-1) in a Class 5A state semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Allen heads to Austin with five playoff wins by an average of 20 points. It plays with the confidence of a team that expected this to happen.
“I knew we were going to be something special,” said junior guard Nick Rutherford.
The Eagles are definitely special, considering they’re the first Allen boys basketball players to win a playoff game in 31 years. Yes, any playoff game. That’s why it’s understandable when people doubted Allen could be a winner in basketball.
And the naysayers are right about the “football town.”
Allen has won three state football titles in the last six seasons. The school has a $60 million stadium that, although it’s currently closed to address concerns with cracking concrete, is an obvious indication of a place that takes football seriously.
But McCullough, who coached at Sherman for nine years and Norman (Okla.) for two before taking over the Eagles, saw the potential.
“Allen is a place that thrives on excellence and doing things at a high level, and not just athletically,” he said. “I’ve always felt, even in my years at Sherman, that Allen has been a sleeping giant as far as basketball.”
Great facilities, well-funded programs, one-school town, state’s largest enrollment — that doesn’t just create football giants. Still, it’s amazing how quickly Allen basketball went from so-so to so, so good.
It wasn’t completely overnight. Allen hit some rough patches early in the season when senior forward Jamuni (pronounced juh-money) McNeace was injured and Rutherford, a junior who transferred from Indianapolis in August, was still getting comfortable with his teammates. Allen finished third in tough District 10-5A and got swept by champion Plano West and runner-up Plano East.
“We weren’t finishing the games the way we should have,” McNeace said.
But in the playoffs, Allen finished off teams quickly. Rutherford (14 points per game in the playoffs), McNeace, junior guard Olin Carter and senior guard Myron Fisher, who McCullough calls “the coach on the floor,” helped Allen grow into a state contender.
The player who best mirrors Allen’s basketball growth is McNeace. As a freshman, he wasn’t yet 6-feet tall and was cut from the team. Now the senior is 6-8 and 205 pounds, has signed with Oklahoma and is enjoying the way basketball has changed at Allen.
“I used to walk in the hallways,” McNeace said, “and everybody was like, ‘Are you guys going to win? Should I even come to the games?’ ”
Now everyone wants to be a part of it. A huge group of Allen students, from a school with an enrollment of about 6,000, is expected to cheer the Eagles against Judson, which finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the state.
Allen was unranked, but hungry.
“Our record may not be as glamorous as some of the others,” McCullough said, “but we’ve got the guys, we’ve got the tools and we’re really jelling right now.”
Allen vs. Converse Judson
District: 25-5A (first)
Coach: Mike Wacker
State titles: None
Previous appearances (last): 2 (2001)
Playoff victories: 60-34 over SA Johnson, 62-39 over Cibolo Steele, 54-43 over SA Churchill, 80-47 over Edinburg North, 52-41 over SA Madison
Top players: Tanner Leissner, 6-7, F, Sr.; David Wacker, 6-9, F, Sr.; Rayshon Winn, 5-10, G, Sr.
Notable: Judson, which was ranked No. 1 in the final regular-season 5A state rankings, has won 34 straight games. … Leissner, who signed with New Hampshire, leads Judson in scoring (15 points) and rebounding (8.0). … David Wacker, son of coach Mike Wacker, signed with Boise State. … Judson, which often plays at a slow tempo, has allowed playoff opponents an average of 41 points. … Judson lost to Fort Worth Dunbar in the 1993 5A final, 74-64.
*Judson stats provided by San Antonio Express-News
District: 10-5A (third) Record: 27-8 Coach: Jeff McCullough
State titles: None
Previous appearances: None
Playoff victories: 70-47 over Jesuit, 49-30 over Mesquite, 58-35 over Garland Lakeview, 69-38 over Spring Dekaney, 65-58 over Humble Atascocita
Top players: Jamuni McNeace, 6-8, F, Sr.; Myron Fisher, 6-2, G, Sr.; Nick Rutherford, 6-2, Jr., G; Olin Carter, 6-1, Jr., G
Notable: Nick Rutherford (14.0 points per game in the playoffs) and Olin Carter (11.8) often lead Allen in scoring, but the team is balanced. Five players are scoring more than seven points per game in the playoffs, including Jamuni McNeace (9.2), Myron Fisher (7.6) and Plano West transfer C.J. Winzer (7.6). … Allen finished third in District 10-5A, but its four district losses were by an average of four points. … Allen finished the regular season out of the state rankings, but it beat No. 7 Humble Atascocita in the Region II final.